Edwin Williams says here that some verbs in the frame [V NP AP]† like e.g. wipe admit NP and AP to invert freely (1) while others like consider don't (2a-b): they require NP to be "long" or "heavy" (2c).

(1a) I wiped the table clean

(1b) I wiped clean the table

(2a) I consider the table clean

(2b) *I consider clean the table

(2c) I consider clean any table with a reflectant surface

I was wondering if appoint/elect behave like wipe or like consider in this respect. Are (3b) and (4b) OK?

(3a) We appointed a burly man captain of the team

(3b) We appointed captain of the team a burly man

(4a) We elected an old woman vicepresident of the board

(4b) We elected vicepresident of the board an old woman

†Abbreviations: V = verb, NP = noun phrase, AP = adjectival phrase.


1 Answer 1


(1) and (2) have different structures. They're not "in the frame [V NP AP]"; they're quite different. Constructions are not beads on a string; they have internal structure. (3) and (4), on the other hand, are the same and are both grammatical, if awkward.

(1a-b) are examples of a fixed verbal construction [wipe clean], functionally a phrasal verb like [cook down] or [blow up], which can undergo Dative alternation:

  • He wiped the table clean ~ He [wiped clean] the table.
  • He cooked the greens down ~ He [cooked down] the greens.
  • They blew the balloon up ~ They [blew up] the balloon.

(2) is different. Consider clean is not a fixed phrase, but rather a string that results from a different rule, to be-Deletion. (2a) comes from an original complement clause which things have been done to:

  • I consider [(for) the table (to be) clean].

The for part of the for...to infinitive complementizer is deleted, as it usually is, and the required and therefore noninformational to be is also deleted, followed by Subject Raising moving the table up to become object of consider, whence it can be passivized into

  • The table is considered clean (by me).

Note that to be-Deletion is optional, so at any stage one can add to be without change in meaning:

  • I consider the table to be clean.
  • The table is considered to be clean.

This is a fact about consider, not about "[V NP AP]". Lots of verbs work like consider, so it's hardly unique. Those two constructions just look the same on the surface.

Appoint and elect are odd 3-place predicates with two objects but no receiver or trajector. Instead, the two objects refer to two different identities that have been merged - one usually personal and the other official, though both can be official, like He appointed the Duke of Denver as his Official Representative.

All the sentences given in (3-4) are strange, because the point of the construction is to identify one participant and link them with the new title. That means one part should be short and the other part should be long. In these sentences both parts are long and the construction bursts its tethers. Don't try to be precise and also fully descriptive in the same sentence.

One thing that may be helpful in handling these constructions is that one can always insert as before the newly-acquired role, thus identifying the person and the role.

  • Is Voters elected Biden president not uncontroversially idiomatic?
    – Zoltan
    Jul 29, 2022 at 19:53
  • It's not idiomatic, though using voters instead of generic they is a bit odd. Jul 29, 2022 at 20:42

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